Republican Congressman Michael Grimm and Democratic challenger Domenic Recchia engaged in a combative debate Friday in their race to represent Staten Island and part of Brooklyn, with Recchia repeatedly bringing up Grimm’s federal indictment and Grimm insisting he is the best choice for the district.
Grimm, a former Marine and FBI agent, is accused of evading taxes by allegedly hiding more than $1 million in sales and wages, while running a small Manhattan restaurant. He has pleaded not guilty to 20 counts and has a December court date.
Grimm said his trial would be over before the next session of Congress starts and added: “I believe I’m entitled to my day in court just like everyone else”
Asked by the moderator whether he would resign if found guilty, Grimm said, “If I was not able to serve then, of course, I would step aside and there would be a special election.”
Recchia, a former city council member, injected the indictment into arguments over public health funding and bridge tolls.
Grimm said Recchia supported “an $8 toll on the Brooklyn Bridge,” a reference to former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s failed congestion pricing plan, which Recchia backed.
Recchia responded, “I did not vote to raise the toll. Look where this is coming from! He lied under oath!”
The race to represent New York’s 11th Congressional District is one of the most competitive in the country. Friday’s debate, the first televised face-off in the race, will air Sunday on WABC-TV.
Recchia, 55, has the support of the national Democratic Party, which has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in his campaign. Grimm, 44, has sought to link Recchia with Mayor Bill de Blasio and President Barack Obama, two Democrats unpopular on Republican-leaning Staten Island.
Recchia did not directly answer a question about whether Obama and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are doing a good job of responding to Ebola, saying, “We have to focus on the crisis and helping the people of this city.”
Grimm said he does not believe Obama or the CDC have handled Ebola well. “I think there’s been a lack of leadership,” he said.
Recchia said Grimm has lost the support of his own party because of his indictment and cannot serve effectively in Congress.
“The people of this district deserve better,” Recchia said. “They deserve someone who’s gonna fight for them 24/7, and I’m that person who has a track record of getting things done.”
Grimm told reporters after the debate that Recchia “is a one-trick pony. It’s the indictment and nothing else.”
Grimm, who is seeking his third term, also was captured on camera in January threatening to throw a TV reporter off a balcony after the journalist asked Grimm about an FBI probe into his campaign finances.
Pressed about the confrontation after a debate earlier this month, Grimm said that he apologized to the reporter and that he made a mistake after a stressful day in Congress.